A Bird of Paradise residing in an indoor container can quickly deplete the nutrients in their soil, resulting in slow growth and loss of luster. However, you don’t have to repot your Bird of Paradise to provide a boost of healthy minerals. Fertilizing and composting are excellent ways to keep your plant looking and feeling its best.
To fertilize your Bird of Paradise, use a balanced fertilizer once per month during the growing season. Never add fertilizer to a plant that is dormant, in shock from a recent transition, or otherwise unhealthy. Always dilute fertilizer to half strength. Remember, it is much easier to add more in the future than to undo damage from fertilizer burn.
Ready to learn about how to incorporate fertilizer into your plant care routine? Keep reading for an overview of fertilizer use, fertilizer risks, and even some organic alternatives to add to your gardening regimen!
What Exactly Is Fertilizer?
When a Bird of Paradise is grown outside, rainwater, insects, and organic matter create a nutrient-rich compost in which it can thrive. But indoors, plants can quickly deplete the nutrient content of their containers, living in a mix that no longer provides the resources needed for healthy growth.
This can be especially problematic for flowering plants, which consume large amounts of nutrients during their growing season. Introducing a bit of fertilizer can go a long way to promoting increased growth.
Sometimes fertilizer is called “plant food,” but this is actually a bit of a misconception. Plants create their own food through the photosynthesis process. So rather than “food,” think of fertilizer like a vitamin for your plant, supplementing it with the macro and micronutrients it needs to thrive.
A trip through your local garden center will likely reveal rows of fertilizers and fertilizer components, the sight of which can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry – many premixed, all-purpose fertilizers can be purchased that will do the trick for your Bird of Paradise.
What Fertilizer Is Best for a Bird of Paradise?
Some fertilizers are created explicitly for specific plants, offering the exact nutrient and pH balance that this species craves for growth. But fertilizer doesn’t have to list Bird of Paradise on its label to offer support for your plant’s nutritional needs. In fact, most of your houseplants can be fed the same fertilizer. Personally, I love Jacks’s All-Purpose 20-20-20 Fertilizer. It is easy to mix up and straightforward to apply. Plus, I use it on nearly all of my indoor plants.
The most important consideration for your fertilizer selection will not be the picture on the bag or brand name but the contents of the fertilizer formula. So let’s dive right in to nutrient composition.
NPK Ratios – What Do They Mean?
The next time you take a nutritional supplement, look at the label. You will likely see a list of vitamins and minerals accompanied by percentages. This list serves as a guide to the supplement’s contents and how much might be too much for your health.
Fertilizer is like a vitamin for your plant. And while the nutritional needs of the human body are complex, resulting in a long list of ingredients in your dietary supplement, the needs of your plants are much less complicated. In fact, when you look at the label of your plant’s fertilizer, you may only see a few key ingredients, as well as a ratio of “NPK.”
NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – three of the most essential nutrients plants require. Since fertilizer helps to restore the nutrient balance of soil, it typically contains the highest concentrations of the most critical nutrients – thus, NPK.
You may also notice that the letters NPK are accompanied by numbers, for example, “NPK 10-5-5.” This would mean that the formula contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 5% potassium. The rest of the mix will likely be a mix of lesser minerals and ingredients intended to aid the absorption of the blend.
Keep in mind that fertilizer is not beneficial for a plant currently planted in a nutrient-rich potting mix. In other words, if you have recently repotted your Bird of Paradise, or it is occupying a fertile patch of soil outside, it may not need fertilizer at all.
If the soil is a few months old, consider using a fertilizer with a balanced NPK ratio, such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. That will help replenish the soil for your Bird of Paradise with an even mix of the most important nutrients.
You may have also noticed that fertilizer can come in different forms – predominantly pellets and liquid blends. And these different fertilizer mediums can have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your comfort level and your plant’s needs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at these two common fertilizer mediums.
Liquid vs. Pellet Fertilizers
Pellet fertilizer will likely appear as small or medium-sized beads, pods, or chips that are designed to release fertilizer into your plant’s soil over time. These pellets can vary in color, including blue, green, brown, and even pink. However, the appearance of the fertilizer is not as important as how it will be received by your Bird of Paradise.
Fertilizer that is encapsulated in pellet form is typically designed for slow release. This means that once mixed into your plant’s soil, it will slowly disburse fertilizer into the potting mix as the pellets encounter water.
This can be advantageous because fewer fertilizer applications are needed throughout the growing season. Additionally, pellet fertilizer can be more affordable when purchased in bulk since it is easier to store than liquid fertilizer.
However, there are major disadvantages to this fertilizer option, including that it may be absorbed too slowly for plants in need of immediate nutritional support. Additionally, the nutrients in pellets will typically only disburse around the area in which the pellets are placed, meaning that unless the pellets are well distributed in the soil, and around the plant, their nutrients may not reach the plant roots.
On the other hand, liquid fertilizers are premixed and are typically purchased in bottles or jugs. And while some of these bottles can be as small as 8 ounces, don’t let the size fool you. Many liquid fertilizers are designed to be diluted, so a little can go a very long way.
Liquid fertilizer can have significant advantages, including that it is very quickly absorbed by your plant. Additionally, liquid fertilizer can be more easily distributed through the soil and is more likely to permeate the potting mix, allowing it to effectively reach your plant’s roots. For this reason, many growers recommend liquid fertilizer as the most desirable option for plant health.
That said, liquid fertilizers do require more frequent applications. Additionally, liquid fertilizer can freeze or overheat, resulting in decreased effectiveness depending on the storage conditions. Be careful storing liquid fertilizer in containers outside or in uninsulated sheds.
Personally, I always choose liquid fertilizers for my houseplants for one main reason: they’re easy to dilute. I always dilute my fertilizer to 1/4 or 1/2 strength to make sure I don’t burn the roots, and doing so with granular is impossible. In my opinion, liquid is the best option for fertilizing Birds of Paradise and other indoor plants.
Go Easy – Fertilizer Burn Can Harm a Bird of Paradise
Although it can be hard to imagine plant food harming your plant, it is definitely possible – especially if too much fertilizer is used or if it comes into direct contact with delicate parts of the plant. Both of these scenarios result in what is called “fertilizer burn.”
Too much fertilizer can damage the root system of your plant. When that happens, roots will no longer be able to uptake nutrients and water and distribute them to the rest of the plant. That’s why I always dilute my fertilizer to half strength. Remember, it’s easier to add more than to try to undo the damage caused by excessive fertilizer.
Fertilizer burn can also refer to noticeable damage to the leaves and stems of the plant resulting from chemical contact with its dermal layer. Many fertilizers contain salt, which can cause excessive dehydration of the plant’s leaves and stems, resulting in brown spots and wilting. These burns will not heal, and badly burned leaves will eventually drop from the plant.
Do not use pellet fertilizer close to a wet plant since this can rapidly release the fertilizer directly onto the plant’s outer tissue. Liquid fertilizer can also result in burns, so make sure to slowly pour the mixture close to the soil to avoid splashing the fertilizer onto the leaves and stems of your Bird of Paradise.
Also, keep in mind that drought conditions can over-concentrate fertilizer. Ensure that your plant is appropriately watered when fertilizer is in the soil, allowing the water to permeate the potting mix and distribute the minerals accordingly.
When and How Often Should I Fertilize My Bird of Paradise?
Potted plants are not readily adaptable to environmental change and cannot process excess liquid and nutrients as efficiently as humans. As a result, excess water, light, or fertilizer, can lead to an imbalance, impacting the health of your Bird of Paradise.
For this reason, it is wise to introduce fertilizer slowly and only when needed. There is no need to fertilize your plant more than once a month during the growing season. And it is usually wise to avoid fertilizing altogether during winter dormancy, since your Bird of Paradise is not consuming large amounts of energy to sustain new growth.
Also, always dilute your fertilizer to half-strength and avoid getting fertilizer on the leaves and stems of your plant. As we have already seen, some of the nutrients and minerals in fertilizer can be harmful to your plant if provided in large quantities or applied to areas other than the roots. This damage can be slow to repair and can become extreme if bad fertilizing habits are left unaddressed.
For this reason, some gardeners look to alternatives to fertilizer, such as composting. These all-natural approaches are safer for plants and humans and can even be better for your budget.
Compost As a Fertilizer Alternative
Though composting is a slow-acting alternative to fertilizer, it is user-friendly and eliminates the risks of chemical burns to your plant. Best of all – it’s practically free!
The best conditions in which to grow a plant are those that mirror its natural habitat. When plants grow outdoors, they reside in soil that is continually renewed by the elements. Rainwater, insects, and decomposing organic matter replenish the nutrient content of the soil, helping plants grow lush without the need for fertilizers.
While indoor plants may deplete the mineral content of their potting mix, composting is a strategy that can help revitalize your plant’s soil without risk of nutrient overdose or chemical burns.
Composting refers to the process of allowing organic matter, such as cut grass, crushed eggshells, vegetable peels, and fruit scraps to decompose into nutrient-rich soil. And while you can purchase special bins for this purpose, most sealing, plastic tubs (with holes drilled in the lid) will be sufficient.
With proper exposure to warmth, moisture, and oxygen, the organic matter will turn into a rich, black soil in about ten to twelve weeks.
Outdoor composting, such as in a compost pile, can take anywhere from two months to a year to produce nutrient-rich soil. This is the result of the varying temperatures and moisture levels to which outdoor composting is exposed.
Although there are “recipes” for compost, which can help you produce varieties that are especially rich in certain minerals, this is generally unnecessary. Since the organic matter incorporated into compost – such as rice, corn husks, and vegetable peels – is already diverse in its nutrient balance, the result is almost always an excellent fit for your Bird of Paradise.
Once the compost has been created, it can be added into a layer on the top of your plant’s current soil and then gently raked or manually mixed into the top of the soil. When introduced, this compost will introduce a chemical-free mix of nutrients into your plant’s soil.
Not interested in making your own compost but still like the thoughts of going a more natural route for feeding your Bird of Paradise? Compost can be purchased, eliminating some of the time and mess needed to naturally supplement your plant’s soil.
Fertilizing and composting can seem like next-level plant care, especially for beginning gardeners. However, these supplementation efforts can provide a tremendous return on investment – encouraging healthy plants and beautiful blooms.
But be careful – fertilizer is not a “cure-all” and will not reverse damage caused by other plant care issues. Before using fertilizer, it’s wise to make sure that your watering, humidity, and lighting is supporting the health of your Bird of Paradise. Unless your plant has gone years without repotting, it is rare that issues such as large-scale yellowing, leaf drop, or plant drooping would be caused by a lack of nutrients alone. Instead, it is more likely that environmental issues are to blame.
Only once your plant’s health is stable should you introduce fertilizer. Fertilizing can worsen the health of a sick plant and is not needed if the plant is dormant or in shock from a recent transplant.
Composting can also provide a way to keep your plant healthy and offers minimal risks. However, even with composting, it is important to prioritize basic plant care as the first step in Bird of Paradise health.
Just remember that a Bird of Paradise’s health is a long-term focus, and moderation is the key to achieving your plant care goals. With your new knowledge of fertilizer and composting, you are ready to address your plant’s nutritional needs, and soon you will see results. Now, what are you waiting for? Grab your fertilizer, your composting bin, and your Bird of Paradise – it’s time to get your hands dirty!